The coronavirus is now spreading in Hamilton County in part because of the reopening of businesses, something that county officials denied was happening last month.
During a Monday news conference, Hamilton County Health Department administrator Becky Barnes said the virus is spreading in the community across all ZIP codes, workers, living situations and demographics.
"We're seeing a cross section of workers in all different venues," Barnes said on Monday. "There's a lot of cases also that we have no epi-link to — they test positive, they have no idea where they got it — so there's community spread."
In a separate statement to the Times Free Press, Barnes said the high number of cases in residents under 40 years old was coming from spread among families, as well as from "businesses that have been open, businesses that are reopening [and] employees bringing the virus to newly opened sites."
Throughout May, as cases surged from 163 at the start of the month to 1,083 by the end, local officials said the increasing case count was due to additional testing, plus spread among essential workers — those who never stopped working — and in multigenerational homes.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger emphasized on multiple occasions that the new cases were not due to his actions starting on May 1 to ease restrictions that had kept business closed and people shut in their homes in an effort to stop the virus from spreading.
This month, Coppinger further eased restrictions by allowing exercise facilities to increase capacity and reopen locker rooms, as well as close-contact business to perform beard shaving, trimming and facials.
The case surge has continued into June. One day last week, the county announced 106 new cases, breaking the previous single-day record. There have also been multiple days of new record-high numbers of hospitalizations and people in the intensive care unit with COVID-19 this month. The county recorded five coronavirus deaths in 10 days from the end of May to June.
The department announced 47 new infections on Thursday, bringing the county total to 1,692. The county is now averaging 60 new cases a day over the past week. There are currently 53 people hospitalized and 22 people in the ICU with the virus, both numbers single-day records for the pandemic.
Local officials have said it is important to follow data trends over time rather than focus on single-day jumps but the growth in hospitalizations continues a trend that began May 30. The last three days have been the highest number of hospitalizations in the pandemic, with 46 on Tuesday, 50 on Wednesday and now 53 on Thursday.
Health officials said part of the current spread is due to people not taking the virus seriously and returning to normal activities, especially without wearing a mask.
"I think that people have somewhat lost their enthusiasm for staying home, social distancing, especially people who have not seen the direct effects of COVID-19 in their family," Barnes said on Monday. "They may be more likely to think it's safe to go out and do activities that they would've done prior to the pandemic."
Doctors have urged people to wear a mask when they are in public because the virus travels on respiratory droplets and can be spread by people not showing symptoms. Coughing and sneezing releases more droplets than talking, and the risk of coming into contact with virus particles increases with time spent around an infected individual and in close quarters with poor air circulation.
Coppinger has said previously he will not require businesses to create a mask-wearing policy.
Contact Wyatt Massey at email@example.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.